It began with a conversation among Hawthorne, California, police officers trying to come up with a better way to engage with the community they serve.
“Why don’t we just have coffee with people?” suggested veteran officer John Dixon.
That question led to Coffee with a Cop, a grassroots program that brings law enforcement personnel together with the people they serve in a comfortable environment. Coffee with a Cop now has a presence in all 50 states, as well as Canada, Europe, Australia and Africa.
Sergeant Chris Cognac, a 25-year veteran of the Hawthorne Police Department, has been involved with Coffee with a Cop from the beginning. Cognac, who estimates that he’s been to 100 sessions in the U.S. and Canada, credited the success of the program to “the little things that add up.”
Finding Common Ground
“America is so polarized that the public sees the police as just this entity – ‘the police.’ They forget the human factor, and, on the other side, we as police sometimes forget that people are more than a radio call. Coffee with a Cop brings common ground,” Cognac said. “It’s the handshakes, the pats on the back, the selfies, the realization that we want the same things in our community. It’s the realization that police officers are also parents, members of the community, coaches, volunteers and things like that.”
Starbucks, which began hosting Coffee with a Cop events in 2011, has remained an active participant since those early days. Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz joined Seattle Chief of Police Kathy O’Toole at a Coffee with a Cop meeting and the New York Police Department participated in three 2015 gatherings after Schultz championed the program to Police Commissioner William Bratton and Community Affairs Bureau Chief Joanne Jaffe.
“The ‘Third Place’ that Starbucks has become in nearly 10,000 company-owned locations across the United States is increasingly a place for towns to come together to find common ground and understanding,” said John Kelly, senior vice president of Starbucks Global Responsibility, Community, and Public Policy. “We welcome opportunities such as Coffee with a Cop to convene members of the community, civic leaders and law enforcement to promote dialogue, empathy and stronger neighborhoods.”
National Coffee with a Cop Day
The new Starbucks in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago will be among dozens of Starbucks stores across America hosting National Coffee with a Cop Day gatherings today (October 7), which cap Department of Justice National Community Policing Week activities.
New York Police Department Sergeant Efrain Perez, who attended three Starbucks-hosted Coffee with a Cop meetings in 2015, said a coffeehouse atmosphere is particularly conducive to constructive give-and-take and comfortable conversation.
“Starbucks has become a staple in the community, so for members of the community to see the police department have an open forum in there with a microphone and people free to openly talk was one of the things that made it relevant,” said Perez.
In Renton, Washington, Coffee with a Cop meetings have been rotating through city Starbucks stores for the last month. Starbucks district manager Sean Greenlee has watched as customers and as many as 10 officers discuss everything from personal concerns about safety to police sensitivity training.
“What’s been eye-opening is how much the police officers appreciate it,” said Greenlee. “They’re so enthusiastic to be able to talk about some of the positives of what they do. It seems like they’re more excited than anyone at each of the gatherings.”